When our musicians cantor the Psalm, and the assembly responds, we are doing “more” than singing.
Here’s a little background about the sometimes-overlooked Responsorial Psalm, and a reflection on the one we will pray this Sunday:
An Invitation to Participate
There are four distinct part of the Liturgy of the Word: The first reading, the Responsorial Psalm, the second reading and the Gospel. For the first and second readings and the Gospel, the assembly listens to the Scriptures as proclaimed by the lector or clergy. Only in the Psalm are we invited to participate in the reading, following the practice of the Jewish synagogue where the community traditionally replied to a Scripture reading by singing a psalm or a biblical canticle. Irene Nowell explains it this way: “the psalm functions to lead the worshippers both to understand and to appropriate the readings. The readings tell the story of God’s actions with the people. The Psalm allows today’s people to say: ‘Yes, we too are part of that story.’ “ 1
Responding for Two Reasons
The Psalm is referred to as the Responsorial Psalm for two reasons.
- The Psalms we sing at Mass were specifically chosen to be a response to the first reading. The Psalm is also sung in the style of Responsorial singing, also known as call-and-response (found in the folk music of many cultures—e.g., Native American, African, and African American).
- In addition to the Psalm being a response to the 1st reading, it serves as a bring between the 1st reading and the words of Jesus in the Gospel.
Reflecting on This Week’s Psalm and Response
This week, we sing the response “Lord You Have the Words of Everlasting Life”. Within the three year cycle of readings, we also hear this response on Easter Vigil, the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year C, the 26th Sunday in Year B and is considered a common psalm (one that can be sung seasonally … more on that in another blog!).
In the verses of this Sunday’s Psalm, which is the second of three stanzas in Psalm 19, we hear six descriptions of God’s word. Perfect. Trustworthy. Right. Clear. Pure. True. This stanza is a litany singing the praises of the Law. The law teaches us how to be like God, how to be fully human.
In today's first reading, we hear the account from the Book of Exodus of the giving of the Ten Commandments to the Israelites. These are principles for the people of Israel to use as a blueprint for living, showing them how to share life with God. In the Gospel narrative, we see that following the law became separate from the true meaning of the covenant. The moneymakers disobeyed the Law, turning their backs on both God and neighbor with their selfish behavior. Jesus quickly reprimands them for their lack of devotion to the law when he throws them out of the temple.
As we sing the response, “Lord You Have the Words of Everlasting Life” let us sing it as our acceptance of the goodness of God’s law. Perfect. Trustworthy. Right. Clear. Pure. True.
We might be challenged by a verse later in Psalm 19 “Let the words of my mouth meet with your favor, keep the thoughts of my heart before you, Lord.”
Lord, keep me honest in what I say;
keep my words true to your law.
May my words always glorify you.
1Irene Nowell, Sing a New Song: The Psalms in the Sunday Lectionary, The Liturgical Press (1993), 1
Musical Musings by JaNet Hancock, Director of Music and Liturgy